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What Would Free College Be Worth?–Meditations on Bernie Sanders’ Plan

Yesterday (24 June 2019) Senator Bernie Sanders upped the discussion among those candidates hopeful of winning the Democratic nomination. If I understand his plan, there are two parts to it.ap_738914881801-smaller_slide-c38afbf1af02da96e2f3e6688d883493538cf8cd-s800-c85

Part One: Offer free tuition at public universities and trade schools to everyone.

Part Two: Cancel all existing student loan debt.

ABC news reported it this way on their website:

Sen. Bernie Sanders introduced his most sweeping plan yet to tackle the increasing cost of a higher education, introducing a bill Monday that would make public colleges and trade schools tuition free and cancel outstanding student loan debt for everyone full article here

I completely understand why some people want these changes. It starts with the pernicious problem of history majors from Princeton with $150,000 in student loan debt only qualified to teach history for $45,000 a year. I feel for these situations, I really do. I was able to attend the college of my choice because of financial aid, but still had to borrow some money to finish. A four-year university is expensive and the most expensive schools and degrees do not always offer promising jobs in the future, especially if all you have is an undergraduate degree.

Yet there are problems with the Sanders’ plan. If you make something free, the value plummets. By excusing debt, those who have already paid their loans back and those who chose to go to local schools, work through, and leave debt free are punished.

I have five big concerns that make me opposed to Sanders’ (and Warren’s) plan. I want you to know, though, I could be talked otherwise, as these are where I start from not where I may finish. A solid argument could persuade me. I just haven’t heard the solid argument yet.

Objection 1: If tuition at public institutions, like my alma mater, the University of Texas, is free then it will only be a matter of time before a university education at a public school is downgraded to essentially be a biggie sized high school diploma.

Objection 2: When public institutions are so constrained, the dividing line between public and private will only increase (a distinction that is currently neglible) with no public school able to get into the top tier. This will further divide the haves and the have nots.

Objection 3: Many private schools are religious institutions. By excusing debt accumulated, say, at BYU or Notre Dame, the government is funding religious education. As a Baptist, I have a hard time accepting this.

Objection 4: Canceling that much debt at one time, with no obligation or payment of any kind from those who amassed the debt, creates two immediate problems. The first problem is artificially tilting the free market economy.  The second problem is the expectation of a whole generation of mostly young people that they can have someone else pay their debt. It undermines responsibility, which is something college is supposed to teach.

Objection 5: Going forward, what do we do? If you cancel the debt now, in five years there will be students with loans needing to be paid back. Is this a perpetual promise, because that would get expensive fast. Free tuition doesn’t cover the most expensive part of college–room and board, thus guaranteeing there will always be college loans and college loan debt problems.

I am cynical of Sanders’ plan, because the Democratic candidates are falling all over themselves to give away more and more free stuff in an effort to get elected. I have a counter proposal. It is three parts. Part one, increase both need based and merit based federal aid while putting tougher limits on how much money can be borrowed. Part two, instead of free college, spend money on healthcare and create a universal care system. That would take a big spending burden off the entire public. Part three, expand and make for easier application the methods of having individual student loans forgiven. Some methods already exist, but these could be increased to include things like volunteering at your child’s school or a local food bank, jury duty, or donating blood or plasma.

 

Some Analysis On What Happened

Warning: What follows is snarky political commentary. Read at your own risk.

Waiver: I am not partisan. I am too concerned about the unborn to be a Democrat. I am too much in favor of immigration and open borders to be a Republican. I am too cynical of the human condition to be a Libertarian. I trust no politician.

Disclosure: I will not, at any point in the future, buy or read Hillary Clinton’s book. Its just not something I’m inclined to do.

hillary.jpg

What Happened is the title of her book. It is not lost on me that her book title doesn’t have a question mark. She is not asking, she is telling. And that is perhaps as much insight as anyone needs into why she lost in the first place. Nevertheless, I take it as a question. What follows are my answers to her not-so-rhetorical question.


  1. Hillary lost. That is what happened. She was a bad candidate. I am not a Trumper, and that has been made manifest on the pages of this blog before, but he out campaigned her. It has been said before, and should be said again– There is nothing anyone else did that kept her from going to Wisconsin. It could be argued that Trump didn’t win; Clinton lost.
  2. The emails are a fact of her own making. She tries hard to blame Jim Comey for her defeat as if he invented the problem. The problem was one she made. If one thinks on it from a certain perspective, Comey can become a sympathetic character who was between a rock and a hard place as it concerned the Clinton emails.
  3. Bernie Sanders did her a favor. If Sanders hadn’t been such a magnetic candidate, even fewer people would have cared about the election from the Democratic end. The truth is, the Dems made a terrible mistake in fronting HRC to begin with. Elizabeth Warren would have been the preferred candidate, IMHO to either Bernie or HRC. The only positive thing for the Dems is that the table is set for a strong Warren run in 2020. I, for one, think that Warren V. Trump would be compelling to watch. I’m already making popcorn and Kool-Aid. I mean, can you imagine the fiery Elizabeth Warren’s righteous indignation if Trump would have stalked her in a a debate the way he did HRC? She would have lit him up right then and there.
  4. America is sick of the Clintons. In many ways, she lost for the same reason Jeb Bush could never get traction in the GOP primaries. Most people are ready to move on. I am one of them.
  5. Benghazi mattered. Yeah, that was a big deal to a lot of people. I understand diplomacy means risks, but the way she and President Obama tried to sell that debacle to the American public was a disgrace and many Americans remembered that at the voting booth.
  6. If she couldn’t handle Trump’s tactics in the campaign, how on earth did she expect to handle Russia, China, and North Korea? I think Putin might have overplayed his hands when he worked so hard at undermining the Clinton campaign, because he would have run roughshod over her presidency.
  7. Whining is not pleasant. As a leader, you have to own your problems, and sometimes even own the problems of others. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve taken the blame for something I had nothing to do with, but because I’m the leader it is my responsibility. Blaming others and whining is not productive. Someone should tell her this.
  8. There is a gender problem in our country, and some people didn’t vote for her because she was a woman.  That is true. It is stupid and sad, but true. However, that is not why she lost. There are some people that didn’t vote for Trump just because he was a man, or who voted for Obama because he was black or didn’t vote for him because he was black or didn’t vote for Bush because he was from Texas or because he was from Texas. A strong candidate worthy of being the President of the United States overcomes this. How many people didn’t vote for Kennedy because he was Catholic? or Romney because he was Mormon? I don’t think I ever heard Mitt Romney complain about Mormon bias.

I do not wish HRC any ill will. I wish her the best. I want her to ride off into the sunset with Bill and spend time being a grandmother, doing philanthropy, advocating for women’s issues, and perhaps giving political commentary whenever she wants. But I don’t ever want to see her name on ballot again. Her time is up.

2015 PREDICTIONS

2015 crystal ball

Here it goes, some predictions for the coming year.  Everyone else is doing it, so why doesn’t old Greenbean give it a shot?  Disclaimer:  I am neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet.  I have no crystal ball.  Clairvoyance is not a gift I possess or desire to possess.2015 crystal ball  These are only guesses based on my understanding of things.  For comparison, click here to see how I did with my 2014 predictions.

1. There will be major social and political upheaval in China.  The Communist Party may fall.

2. By the end of the year, Elizabeth Warren will displace Hillary Clinton as the frontrunner for the Democratic nominee for President, and will be the eventual nominee.

3. U2 will release an album and not give any of the music away for free.

4. Apple stock will plummet this year as people realize that the most innovative company on the planet is suddenly just another gadget maker.

5. The price of oil will begin to climb in the spring and will again be around $100 a barrel by December. Consequently, gas prices will also rise back to somewhere around $4.00 a gallon.

6. The NFC Championship game will be The Seattle Seahawks versus the Dallas Cowboys.

7. The San Francisco Giants will not win the World Series in 2015, because it is their year off.

8. ISIS will carry out a major 9-11ish style attack in Europe. Probably somewhere along the Mediterranean.  I so hope I’m wrong on this one.

9. Comprehensive immigration reform will finally be passed in the U.S. Congress.

10. The Supreme Court of the United States will hear and decide the status of same-sex marriages, ending the odd state-by-state situation.

11. CNN will, for all intent and purposes, collapse, and Wolf Blitzer will be donated to the Smithsonian.

12.  Russia will invade and annex the whole of Ukraine while the United States and Europe protest, but do nothing.

13.  Sadly, and I so very much hope this doesn’t happen, I predict Miley Cyrus will die of a drug overdose or some other dangerous behavior.  Sad.  Very sad.  She needs help–so many of them do.

I would love to know what you are predicting for 2015–be it good or ill.

crystal ball image from nativemobile.com